The Land Portal Foundation’s Sierra Leone Country Portfolio provides a comprehensive understanding of the gaps and pitfalls in the country’s land investments scheme.
Sierra Leone is the first of a series of countries to get a new portfolio on the Land Portal. This knowledge piece summarizes the history and development of the country’s land governance system and analyses key elements of this system, such as the land legislation, trends in land use and land acquisition, how women access land rights and more.
“The Sierra Leone country narrative shows that, despite the country’s current efforts to reform its land legislation and to encourage agricultural investors to adhere to standards of responsible land governance, land investments have largely contributed to increasing inequality, corruption, and aggravated conflicts”, says Anne Hennings, author of this narrative and postdoc research fellow at University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany, as well as Local Knowledge Engagement Coordinator with Land Portal.
Her research for this country portfolio demonstrated that disputes continue to occur between families and communities, companies and local communities, local and migrant workers, and between generations in Sierra Leone.
From national to foreign land investments
Land is an essential source of livelihood for Sierra Leoneans. The majority of Sierra Leone’s population lives in rural areas and its GDP is largely based on agriculture. In the aftermath of the decade-long civil war, which took place from 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone attracted quite a number of investors. “In the last years mining, as well as large-scale farming operations have been set up all over the country. In a context of weak land governance, these investments are leading to a lot of conflicts with communities ”, comments Berns Komba Lebbie, national coordinator of the Land for Life Sierra Leone Consortium, who peer-reviewed the Sierra Leone narrative.
While Sierra Leone has a history of mostly state agricultural land investments, Chinese, Turkish, and Saudi Arabian investments have picked up in the agricultural sector recently. Most current land-related challenges have been connected to large-scale projects, that are supposed to spur rural development.
Various sources of conflicts
Primarily, land conflicts in Sierra Leoneare related to a lack of transparency and consent regarding the transfer of land, corruption, environmental issues and, in some cases, the individual agendas of the paramount chiefs. Another conflict line runs between land-using and land-holding families in the chieftaincies and related power disparities. Notably, women and the youth remain excluded from land tenure decision-making process and have little say in shaping land investments.
Studies on commercial land deals in Sierra Leone show that most communities face precarious economic situations and perceive these investments largely as a disappointing experience. This is especially the case when it comes to landless families, women, youth, and other community members who lack rich-men networks or who oppose these operations.
The theory and and the practice of women’s land rights
Despite a constitution that does not deny land ownership to women, this group faces systematic discrimination in practice as customary law reinforces norms that are shaped by men and ignore women’s rights.
In an interesting and hopeful turn of events, women from Port Loko in the north of the country to Pujehun in the south, have started taking to the streets claiming their rights and protesting against exclusion and unfair land investments. Considering the key role women play in providing for their families, they are demanding full participation for women in all decisions regarding land, the right to own land, to say no to industrial plantations, as well as protection against intimidation and violence.
Collaboration for a wealth of resources
This Portfolio has been worked on over a series of months, in close collaboration with Land for Life Sierra Leone Initiative. Besides peer-reviewing the narrative, colleagues from Land for Life have supported the Land Portal team in profiling relevant organizations and stakeholders working on land in Sierra Leone. The Portfolio also includes the latest news, Blogs and events relating to land issues in Sierra Leone, and provides direct access to more than 465 publications related to land issues in the country.